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Humanism and Urban Planning

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The development of humanism has had arguably the greatest contributor to modern urban city development. Humanism established itself over a two-hundred-year period as a response to several monumental moments in human history, post modernity. Humanism can be sub-divided into the Humanist, Enlightenment and Capitalist phase respectively. These three phases developed separately yet interact incessantly. However, these phases do not necessarily work in tandem in a successful manner. It is important to understand and acknowledge transition periods and geomorphic particulars when discussing pre-modern societies. There developed a need for urban planning to adapt to human requirements as a result of the lack of mechanised forms or urban technologies, the absence of “design” or individuals with the relative ability to create functional plans and a sharp increase of in-ward migration to urban areas. However, “when it comes to generalising about the evaluation of urban planning in cities, it is important to consider the differences in the ideology, historical background and financial resources available to each individual city” (Parkinson and Bianchini, 1993).

King François I implemented the first ‘modern’ urban planning of a city in November 1539, in Paris. In doing this, he ordered the sweeping of streets in front of house and the prohibition of emptying refuse onto streets. It was planned that every day Parisians “would take away the barrel containing all the households refuse and excrement and replace it with the previous day’s bin, well washed” (Allen and Corbin, 1987). Following this, the construction of cesspools in all houses was proposed. As a result of the privatization of waste, strict designated areas were developed to cater for the high levels of excrement. The aim of this was to eradicate the odours in public spaces. Despite not being contextualized nor legalized, these ‘rules’ were of major significance as they act as the first evidence of hygiene consideration in modern cities.

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Ensuing the ground breaking work developed by his predecessor, King Henry IV issued the “Eclict of Nantes” which allowed French people to practice the religion in which the wish to declare. This was significant, as it unified the nation while simultaneously making France an exceptionally attractive place to live. This could potentially be seen as the invention of urban planning as it changed the idea of a city to a possible entity which could be planned and designed around the needs of the people in which live therein, or the ‘declaration of human agency’. The final significant stride towards humanism, was seen during the development of the Pont Neuf in 1578. This was the first bridge to serve as a mono-functional space’ while also being the foremost bridge designed in Paris without housing units. The significance of this bridge is that it was the initial building in France to be financed through public taxation as a result, thus developed the notion of public citizens paying for public buildings. Despite this being the norm currently and seeming like obvious construct, this paved the way for the development of cities, roads and buildings worldwide. Furthermore, from the Pont Neuf, the French hierarchy introduced a commissioner for public works in 1595 in addition to the founding of the “Ecoles des Ponts st chausses” in 1747, which is the first civil engineering school on record signifying that with knowledge comes power.

The development of open spaces such as gardens and squares became increasingly valued commodities in urban areas. Buildings in Paris were criticised for their inability to optimize sunlight in addition to their foul smells. Local authorities wanted to make use of open spaces and gardens to utilise sunlight in the region while simultaneously introducing cleaner air and designated spaces in which locals could experience natural environments despite being resident in a large metropolitan area. These public gardens were distributed throughout the city to ensure Parisians were given opportunity to inhale clean air regularly. However, the discovery of bacteria eliminated the imperative to create uninform facades, architects attempted to perfect hygienic modern street designs which cumulated in Le Corbusier’s radically anti-urban solution, a so called ‘city within a park’ (Etlin, 1996). A Royal Declaration of 1783 established regulations which promised to provide fresh and renewed air to the lower floors of buildings and to the people in the street itself (Etlin, 1996).

Humanism subsequently developed into an ethical stance that emphasizes the value of human beings and “will be the first notion of ‘modern planning’ to leave a lasting trace” (Toulmin ,1990).

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Humanism and Urban Planning. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
“Humanism and Urban Planning.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Humanism and Urban Planning. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
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